Monday, June 30, 2008

Wild Child Rose

I first met Rosa Chindensis- alias the Rosa Mutabilis- aka the Butterfly Rose- at Heard’s Country Gardens in Westminster. The petals of this winsome beauty flutter in the slightest breeze.

In rebellion from convention, the five be-petalled blossoms, instead of fading with time, grow bolder. These casually displayed flowers of palest peach, coppery pink, through deep rose- bloom concurrently and in clusters. They appear so lightly attached to the shrub- they look as though they might fly away, like butterflies.

It’s a charming effect. Like when Cinderella’s gown changed colors at the ball in the Disney classic film
Sleeping Beauty.
The first time I was in the presence of the butterfly rose, I was smitten. Wandering the path near the shed which sheltered gift items and served as sales office- there was a lightly enchanting scent- my nose hunted for a “rose”- but because I was looking for a more standard- looking variety, I missed the source of the perfume for a few minutes.
It came from two lanky roses, their feet planted “en pointe” at on opposite sides of a metal archway. Their supple arms stretched overhead, curving inward to hold hands in the center. Held in this position by unobtrusive ties, the bend was graceful. The informal blossoms in their range of colors were generously scattered from crown to feet.
Delicate in its appearance- this is a deceptive disguise for this wild child of the rose kingdom. Give it a little shelter and it can grow to 6’x 6’ – even taller in mild areas such as here and in Santa Barbara. Fortunately, it takes well to being whacked to keep it in bounds.

Mine sets at the edge of the lawn. It is the visual divider signaling the crossing point between civilized and bohemian parts of the garden.

Heard's Country Gardens was closed in 2002, after Mary Lou Heard lost her battle to cancer. But her spirit lives on in the plants she introduced to her customers and in the annual Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour held each May in neighboring Orange County.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Using a Broken Heart

Separated lovers cheat absence by a thousand fancies which have their own reality. They are prevented from seeing one another and they cannot write; nevertheless they find countless mysterious ways of corresponding, by sending each other the song of birds, the scent of flowers, the laughter of children, the light of the sun, the sighing of the wind, and the gleam of the stars - all the beauties of creation. - Victor Hugo

Separation. When the heart is broken. When love is removed and you are emptied of its joy. When the emotions of hurt, anger and grief flood in to refill the dark pit inside. When you start to build a dam to shut out feelings.

To live in such fear precludes healing. The truth is, it is impossible to seal out love and live in happiness. In A Path With Heart author Jack Kornfield wrote , "Our hearts can grow strong at the broken places."

Hurt comes to us all. I am certain that many a suburban sprawler has soothed a sour soul through interaction with the soil. As we found it. Turned it. Amended it. Planted it. Garden and gardener in healing interaction. Dirt becomes soil. Soil becomes a garden.
Tending the garden can more than make up for any intrusion the home in which I live made upon once virgin land. By lovingly tending this modest suburban plot- offering up food, water, nesting and shelter- this created a greater Eden than would exist without our home here. This last photograph is of Matilija poppy. It loves what we have lots of in California- Sunshine. And it doesn't need much of what we are spare of- water. With crepe paper delicate petals and sunshine yellow stamens- its billowy flowers resemble an ostrich egg served sunny-side up- it's clear bright colors offer a jubilant smile- a welcome contrast to the parched plants which neighbor where my garden abuts parched undeveloped hillside terrain.

A native of California hillsides, Matilija poppy can be tricky to establish. Buy now, while it is in flower. But try to hold off planting until the fall, when you have a better chance of success the first go-round. Then be prepared to be wowed this time of year from now-on.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rustle Up Roses and Steaks

A lot of red roses soak in the color like a towel. What appears to be regal coloration in the nursery, when you get home, may simply disappear in the landscape. Not so with this stunner. The 'Legends' Rose is luminescent. The effect is that of a silken scarf over a light shade. A floral beckoning to come hither.
Our dogs, Tahoe and Reno - demonstrate just how voluptuous an individual bloom is. Compare the ballroom-sized bloom to the dog and to the pink-edged rose in the same vase as Legends.

Waiting in Whittier at the Blue Hills Garden Center for a good home- is a trio of these lipstick-red bodacious blooming bushes. If you want one to have established in the garden before next year, you better be quick! This limited pre-release does a quick disappearing act when someone finds out a nursery has a couple. If these early specimens are gone when you arrive- special order and beat the rush when the official release starts next winter.
While you are there- sharing the parking lot is Orchard’s Fresh Foods. This family owned and operated market has excellent produce. But go there for the meat counter and experience being waited on by real butchers. Their prime Delmonico steaks just may be the best steaks sold at retail in California.
Delmonico steaks are bone-in, cut from the prime rib. Rev up the barbecue. Whip up the standard prepared horseradish with sour cream as a condiment. It’s a carnivore’s love potion.

Need a special cut of meat? Call ahead and have it ready when you get there.
Contact information for Blue Hills Garden Center can be found on their website at http//
Orchard's Fresh Foods 16426 E. Whittier Blvd. Whittier, Ca, 90603Phone: (562) 902- 1825

The gorgeous photo on the top right is by Gene Sasse. Used with permission.

A special thank you to Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses for spending the decade needed to create and bring this rose to market. How exhillerating to have seen your creation grace the cover of Oprah's O magazine in May!
More on the work of one of the most prolific rosarians in the world shortly.

Both these men deserve HUGE Thank yous for making the world more beautiful.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hammock Days

“Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.”

~Sam Keen
Hot summer afternoons and sultry evenings are made for daydreaming. The northeasterners can have their winter’s rest, when drifts of snow close their gardens, and they stay inside to shop from garden catalogs. I will take our hot summers, where we can lay outdoors in a hammock, to daydream of holidays past and seasons to come.

As a child on summer vacations, we used to pick wild blackberries from along roadsides in the Oregon forest. We loved play-acting that we were pioneers in search of dinner. But I harbored a secret fear that the bears would come for the berries, and coming upon this very plump girl-child, want to eat me instead. So the plan I never told my parents about was that in case of emergency, I would feed them my little sister in hopes this satisfied their hunger.

On these summer forays, we decided there is nothing better to eat than blackberries, barely warm from the sun. We would pick them in the morning. What we didn’t snack on right away, our mother would serve them that night as a simple dessert to eat while we told stories in front of the campfire. Just before dinner, the rinsed berries were sweetened with just enough sugar to render natural syrup. When we were done eating and the campsite was straight, we would share a small carton of vanilla ice cream with the berries spooned over.
Picking berries is a wonderful childhood memory. But now that I am an adult, I know that dealing with cane-type berries in the home landscape needs some planning to be a happy experience. As a plants, think of berries as mint with BIG thorns.

So if you choose to add them to the garden, contain them in a pot or barrel. Blackberry canes are armed with SHARP thorns that aim for any gap in gardening gear. They will attack: so dress for battle or you many be scratched from head to toe.

In twenty-two years I never planted any. Yet I started battling them about a decade ago. Right now I am ahead of the blackberries attempt to take over the canyon: maybe. There are a couple brambles with sycamore-sized leaves propped up against the fence near the apricot tree. I’ve called a temporary truce with these. If this small patch will stay put, their fruit will be allowed to ripen to dark, juicy offerings. Then early on summer mornings I can race the bunnies to the sumptuous berries.

Childhood memories are important. It is a gift to our children that we introduce them to nature through our gardens. If you have a spot for a hammock, treat your family to one. Pull out the garden catalogs and share. Decide together what plants will turn your plot of land in to Eden. Put post it notes on the pages with plants that you will order when the summer sun isn't too searing. For now, put the garden tools down and enjoy the relaxed rhythm of summer.

Photos of little girl and catalog by Gene Sasse. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Napa Style is Sustainable Style

The phrase “sustainable living was kidnapped in its youth from kitchen table vocabulary. It arrived in this century as lexicon stuffed with more political connotations than a turkey with dressing at Thanksgiving.
Michael Chiarello serves the authentic definition, transcending politics. He told the packed house of special guests at the pre-Grand Opening of his South Coast Plaza store that “It is quality that will last.” Living sustainably is living in the Napa style.Who is Michael Chiarello? In everything this Californian man of Italian heritage does, you will find his hallmark of lasting quality.
He sees himself as a farm boy from Turlock, with the ultimate good fortune to work in his calling: hospitality. He began at fourteen as a kitchen apprentice. From there began a lifelong quest to expand the definition of his calling and share his love of all things about the hospitality philosophy he is known for.
In this journey, he has been the Executive Chef of Tra Vigne Restaurant in Napa Valley and other award winning venues. He is the Emmy Award winning Food Network celebrity. He founded the Chiarello Family Vineyards. Now, he has founded the retailer NapaStyle . Log on to and see what life should be through the eyes of a man who believes, “The experience of cooking is as important as the meal itself.” NapaStyle is not about unfettered acquisition. It is unpretentious gracious living. It is a design sensibility where form and function are equal partners. It is a life where at the end of day you put your feet up and let your hair down. It is casual and caring. The air is filled with storytelling from garden to kitchen to table. From one generation to the next, it is the “Chiarello way” that the rituals of family are hospitably passed.
Michael believes that food should be more than tasty- it should be flavorful. His Marinated Parmesan Dip- a condiment sold in handsome glass jars- isn't just wonderful with crackers and vegetables. Thinned with just a touch of cream, my family loves it fresh fettuccine tossed with it.
Living in the Napa style is seasonal. Growing up on the farm, Michael learned that it is best to pick and eat food at the peak of flavor. Use fresh whenever you can- and then preserve a plethora of culinary possibilities.
There are now four cookbooks bearing the Chiarello name. Last year, when Michael opened his Pasadena store, he was kind enough to ask a few questions and recommend specific titles for specific desires. For someone of his stature to take the time with an individual customer- that made a memory. Using these cookbooks has made more.
Napa style requires surrounding yourself with competent passionate people. One of those people is James Franklin, the store manager of the South Coast Plaza locale. Formerly associated with Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table- James would love for you to drop in. When you meet him, you will know there is a “host” gene: like Michael, James was born with it.

NapaStyle South Coast Plaza is on the third level of South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bear Street #105, Costa Mesa, CA 714 825-0445 (Third level, not far from Crate and Barrel)
NapaStyle Pasadena is at 146 S. Lake Ave, #101, Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 795-875

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Fleeting Moments

Flashes of unexpected color break through the woodland opening. Brightest yellow. So delicate. So temporary. So thoroughly enchanting. Gold finch are like happy children, perpetually in motion. Here. Then gone.
The Nyger (or niger) seed is black gold to finches. It fuels appetites and acrobatics. Their tiny beaks pick individual seeds out through the screen tacked over the holes on the feeder. This prevents the dark rye-shaped kernels from pouring out this station. To discourage larger birds from bullying these little darlings, the tall feeder is hung from a wire on shepherds hook. Then only the smallest acrobats can dance and dine their way in to the hearts of onlookers.

How I love the sound of this place. It is quiet, but not silent. We hear the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze. The cooing of dove on the lawn. The chattering of the goldfinch at the thistle feeder.

Don't just open your eyes. Open your ears. Love is abundant in the garden. Hearing it, you will feel it. Enjoy what is around you with all your senses, even if it is just for fleeting moments.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sage Advice

Greek culture associates the herb sage with wisdom. Arab lore links it with immortality. Synonymous with sage, salvia in Latin means to "heal".
The scent of sage is strongly evokes American memories of Thanksgiving. As the predominate herb in the turkey dressing, the splendid fragrance of sage fills the house that day. As we give thanks to the Almighty, we are renewed, our spirits healed.
So it is in the garden. Now, as the early-summer sun begins to softly bake the earth, the unmistakable scent of sage fills the air with memories of hiking in chaparral covered hillsides. It smells like vacation. Away from the city. Away from stress.

Salvia Clevelandii - Cleveland Sage- with long wands of golf ball sized indigo fading to lavender-florets threaded up the length of its arms dressed in grey-green fuzzy leaves: I imagine it to be a floral shish kebob for hungry fairies.
In the open garden, Cleveland sage begins blooming in April, but now through July is when it is its most spectacular. An ecosystem unto itself, it is quite normal to see bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds hovering around, sipping its rich nectar. How can one live with such spectacular company and not know contentment?
Once you taste the slightly softer taste of freshly minced sage leaves, you will not want to go back to dried flakes. A four inch plant will explode in short order to be a four foot giant. Larger if it is happy.

What makes a sage happy? Living in Southern California. They like what we have a lot of: sun. They don't need much of what we lack: water. They like good drainage, which makes them a perfect plant for a hillside garden where thirstier plants shrivel.

Need something to cook with your sage before Thanksgiving? A few tender leaves tucked under the skin of chicken, brushed with butter or olive oil, baked or barbecued, makes magic.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Winds of Change

Once upon a time, before I was a writer or a newspaper editor, I was a Planning Commissioner. During that time, I met an exceptional man. His name is Bob Huff. When the winds of my life changed in a direction away from intense political involvement, Bob stepped in and moved forward in ways I never could.

"We expect to continue disagreeing with Huff on many issues, but we expect that it would be a constructive, and instructive, disagreement."

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Page, May 29,2008

Bob Margett will be retiring this fall from the 29th District of the California Senate. Previously, he was the Assemblyman from the 59th District who served between the Mountjoys- Dick- then Dennis. Together, this father and son are one of the best known brand names in California politics.

Yesterday, the voters delivered to Assemblyman Bob Huff a 64%-36% victory in the Republican primary battle over the younger Mountjoy.


Not just because of quantifiable political views. But also because of the man Bob is. He is a good friend. A loyal friend. He is the kind of man who played piano for a group of women holding a Christmas cookie exchange. He is the kind of man who gave up a Saturday to help an elderly woman with a yard clean-up. He is the kind of man who learned to sing in his wife's native tongue.
He's the kind of man who holds his wife's hand when no one is looking. He is the kind of man who prays- and listens.
I'm not sure whom I am happier for. Bob. Or for those of us he represents.
What I am sure of though, is that there will be less cynicism and more participation when we have more people like Bob Huff serving in office.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Volunteering to Vote

Ask a man which way he is going to vote, and he will probably tell you. Ask him, however, why, and vagueness is all.
- Andrew Lack

Today is election day in California. The news is focusing on the turnout. We will have turned a good corner when the focus is on the quality of thought behind the turnout.

I cannot speak what motivates other people to vote. I can only speak for myself. Voting is my expression of hope for the future of this nation. Voting is a voluntary way of remembering to thank the generations of service men and women who have served this nation. Voting honors especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice- If we have done our homework.

I believe that our individual votes makes a collective difference.

Voting neither stops nor starts on election day. It starts way ahead of time, seeking clues beyond the sales brochures distributed as political mailers and voting guides. And it doesn't end when the results are in. Your vote ends when you are able to see the consequences. If you vote with that seriousness, then the likelihood is that every vote you cast in your lifetime will be better informed.

I don't don't punch every bubble. I only vote if I believe I understand the likely consequences.

In voting I play the odds, assume it is a risk, to be made as reasonable as possible.

I believe it is in the public good for citizens of this nation to have preferential treatment for services the government provides.

I believe the government should help with those things individuals cannot do on our own, and then get out of the way in everything else. We have to live on a budget: the government should too, out of respect for the hard work of those who fund it.

I believe the most important unit of society is the traditional family.

This state, California, is in real financial trouble. Good intentions are getting in the way of being able to invest in infrastructure. Not just in transportation, but in water.

I believe people who disagree with my political philosophy deserve respect. So in looking at candidates and issues, I really look for the non-quantifiable quality of being able to have productive conversations with people about positions on which there is controversy.

Thank you to Gloria Whitley of Washington State for the use of the darling picture of her 8 month old Sheltie 'Jackie'.